Friday, May 16, 2008

The New Talkies in Portland, 5/3/08: Minority Report (Fin)

Loyal readers of this blog may remember my note about Konrad Steiner’s narration to Minority Report last July. Seeing it this time, in the context of the other performances, it seemed to gather up all the loose memes linking the bill and bring them out in way that’s had me pondering the Zeitgeist, which is up there with drinking orange wine coolers at the Bureau of Things Not O.K. to Do in 2008. Just give me this one Bartles & Jaymes moment.

The piece runs on Steiner’s incisive detournment of the well-known “I am Tom Cruise, ADD master of all futuristic image manipulation” scene from Spielberg’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel. Dick knew his way around an identity crisis or two, but Spielberg makes the scene every inch about phallic Tom, as the cameras zoom and twirl across his progress from a Fascist glass-and-steel office lobby to the dark and womby Library of Criminal Images.

Steiner “sets” the scene with passages from The Tibetan Book of the Dead directing the soul in its state between incarnations, itself an apt comment on the condition of high-octane Cruise-level celebrity, where the gap between the image and the life becomes the ordinary zone of existence. As the piece evolves, Cruise’s frantic search for a man who’s going to commit a crime at some point in the future morphs, at Steiner’s touch, into a race back toward Tommy’s own mediagenic birth. In Steiner’s script, Cruise becomes a sort of private dick of the in-between—it’s a whodunit, after all, with all the generic fixings—confronting a cultural imaginary studded with other Tom, Dick, and Harrys who complicate, or maybe create, his own unsolved mystery of origin, not fully aware he’s all smoke and mirror image. The Who’s Tommy, Tom Tom the Piper’s Son, Doubting Thomas, Dick Tracy, Tricky Cad, and infamous South Park parody Tom all make rapid-fire appearances as the movie plays Where’s Waldo? on “Tom Cruise,” the franchise played by the man who’s playing the images. It’s a heady pinball machine of a ride and I’m missing huge chunks of it, but the speed, and the fear you might miss something crucial if you blink, seems part of the point: form mimics function mimics Memorex mimicking Tom.

Aside from the happy correspondences you get on a bill of eight films—two Passions, three science fictions, two sets of bodies floating, two interrogations, etc.—what Steiner’s piece brought home to me was how many of the performances had to do with ontological uncertainty, a Pinocchio-like feeling that we’re real but not really real, in need of something to yank us out of the in-between. There was LRSN’s opening image of two men looking at a baby, talking about getting reborn; Sailers’s “rebirth” scene in the aborted car crash, along with the ‘double Andreas’ theme; my own faux Brits rising to the ceiling in Mary Poppins, deflating when there’s no English left to fill them; Cole & McGinnes’s bird brains, “pure plastic” and not knowing what it is that makes them persons; Sand’s dead-but-not-quite Oregonians, flickering up from the past to give birth to us; Berton’s morph into Erofeyev’s superhumanly drunk itinerant in the Abel & Daedalus scene; Larkin’s Joan, “constituted” by laws and voices that aren’t her own.

Maybe it’s the war, maybe the economy, maybe whatever it is Monsanto and grad school feeds us. But if poets are still the antennae of the race, I wonder what's going on at the other end of the feelers.

1 comment:

konrad said...

Thank you, Rodney for all of these, and for bringing out those synchronicities that happen at all these shows -- since they're never planned and dawn on us all only as we get together to perform and watch them. You forgot the one about the birds: Leo's hilarious "caw caw", Kaia's albatross, and the Mac's masked ball and magic doves. The bird was the totem of our show.

One interpretive note on my piece: i think of the "Cruise character" (the overlay of TC the actor and Anderton, his role in this film) as the figure of Ego itself, struggling to maintain collapsing illusory versions of self, and as you said, looking for a way to be reborn. That's one way all the jokes on names are supposed to work (all the Dick's and Tom's, for example): to mock the grammar of unity asserted by a name with puns and other referential slippages. I suppose i should have made jokes about parents arguing over their child's name, too, since they were watching from their animated portraits on the wall.

But names are important, since when you are reading the Book aloud to a loved one who died, you use their name to get their attention, calling out instructions to them on how to avoid rebirth at all, or if they can't help it, at least move towards one that is advantageous for learning the way out of that cycle. It's a beautiful vision of how to help another person, and a very practical text if you believe in it.